Kobe Bryant’s Finale a Triumph of Volume Over Value
It would perhaps be forgivable for anyone glancing at the box score of Kobe Bryant’s final N.B.A. game on Wednesday to assume his point total was a typographical error. Somehow, a 37-year-old player closing out his 20th season, who had not scored more than 38 points in a game since November 2014, dropped 60 points on the Utah Jazz.
Opinions of Bryant have softened in the closing seasons of his career for many fans, and the praise Thursday morning came in heaps, with bold declarations that his exit from the Los Angeles Lakers was perhaps the greatest in history and that he alone had upstaged the Golden State Warriors, who had set the N.B.A. record for wins in a season, with 73, on the same night.
That final game provided in many ways a perfectly accurate portrait of Bryant, a player whose game could never be described as efficient but who had a knack for relentlessly pursuing victory at all costs. To Bryant’s legions of fans, the fact that it took him 50 shots to get 60 points was entirely irrelevant, because no matter how the sausage was made, his team came away with a win.
The 60 points eclipsed the 59-point game by the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis for the highest-scoring game of the season, but when you set aside their emotional significance and try to discern where Bryant’s finale ranks among the best games of the season statistically, you find a wildly different result.
Determining the quality of a performance is mostly subjective, but John Hollinger, the statistical whiz who now works in the front office of the Memphis Grizzlies, came up with the statistic game score in an effort to sum up a player’s productivity. The scores are adjusted to have a familiar feel, with 40 game score points considered an outstanding performance, 10 considered average, and so on. By that measure, Bryant’s final game, which featured little beyond points, garnered a score of 36.3, which ranked as the 34th-best game of the season. It did not even prove to be the best game of the season’s final night: Stephen Curry of the Warriors, in his team’s record-setting win, garnered a game score of 40.2. Though Curry scored 14 fewer points than Bryant, he did so on 26 fewer shots.
The top of the game score heap for the season belongs to Davis’s 59-point game against the Detroit Pistons on Feb. 21. Davis went 24 for 34 from the field and 9 for 10 from the free-throw line, had 20 rebounds and 4 assists, and committed just 1 foul and 2 turnovers. That resulted in a game score of 53.9, the sixth-highest total since 1983-84 (the earliest year for which Basketball-Reference tracks the statistic). Davis’s game had the best mark since Bryant’s signature 81-point game in 2006.
In a league becoming increasingly obsessed with efficiency, Bryant was a throwback in the truest sense of the word. To him, more was always more, and he gave the basketball world one last glimpse at a profligate style of play that is very likely headed toward extinction.
But years from now, there will be plenty of people who will be able to tell you Bryant scored 60 points in his final game. It is his method of getting there that will most likely be lost to history.